Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat halted the advancement of the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 by referring the issue to a larger Bench of 5 Judges or more for the final decision. The SEBC Act, 2018 guarantees reservation in employment and education to the Maratha populace in the State of Maharashtra.
It was held in the Court that the reservations in jobs and admissions will not be provided for the year 2020-2021 and that the admissions to postgraduate courses will not be altered. Now, the matter will be heard in front of the Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, who will constitute a larger bench. The request for an 11-Judge Constitution Bench on the 50% ceiling on the reservation was put forth by Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi, representing the State of Maharashtra, and Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing an applicant.
The Senior Counsel in support of the SEBC Act argued that given the change in demographics of society, the requirement for the revision of the upper ceiling is integral. So considering that the judgment delivered in the Indra Sawhney case was delivered by a 9-Judge Bench, this case needs to be examined by a Bench of 11 Judges.
The judgement passed in June 2019 by the Bombay High Court is challenged in this plea. By upholding the Maratha quota, the Bombay High Court held that 16% reservation is not admissible and reservation should not exceed 12% in employment and 13% in education as recommended by Backward Commission. Since the SEBC Act, 2018 provides for 12% and 13% quota to the Maratha community in education and jobs respectively, there is a violation of the principles laid in the case of Indira Sawhney v. Union of India (1992) as per which the Top Court restricted the reservation limit at 50%.
While touching on the 103rd amendment, which provides for the EWS reservation, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi and his Counsel argued that the ceiling fixed at 50% was breached in almost all states. It further stated that just like the Janhit Abhiyan case, where the Constitutional amendment providing for EWS reservation has been referred to a Constitution Bench, similar reference should be sanctioned in case of a statutory enactment like the SEBC Act.
On the other side of the coin, while opposing the reference, Senior Counsel like Arvind Datar and Gopal Sankarnarayanan contended that if the Court mediates on the SLP filed, the question of breaching 50% is rendered void since the Maratha citizenry is not socially and educationally backward and as such not eligible for the reservation in the first place. Hence, the matter may not be needed to be referred at all.
Finally, It was appealed by both sides that the matter is heard on merits and if during the proceedings the Court considers that a reference is necessary, the issue can be settled on the later stages.